Can a capsule bring peace of mind?

Ladose (the name for Prozac in Greece) is the most popular antidepressant. In Greece about a million packets are sold every year and it is administered to 54 million people worldwide. An increase in cases of depression might be a sign of the times but Ladose is characteristic of a society that wants to solve problems at the click of a button or by swallowing a capsule. The active ingredient in the capsule is fluoxetine, which belongs to the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) class. Fluoxetine raises the levels of serotonin in the brain, a hormone associated with well-being and which appears to be low in people suffering from depression. Prozac first appeared in the US when people became alarmed by stories of addiction to Valium. The new drug was developed by Eli Lilly, which spent large sums on marketing the product. Until then, antidepressants were particularly toxic and had startling side effects. Prozac was presented as being completely safe, an easy solution and not surprisingly it quickly became popular. Twenty years later it is still the most widely used antidepressant and many claim it has saved their lives. Sales of antidepressants are on the rise in Greece as in the rest of the world. Between 1991 and 2002 sales of antidepressants in Greece increased by 29.8 percent each year, in other words profits from antidepressants increased 18-fold. In 2003, 3.6 million packets of antidepressants in the Ladose category were sold and it is expected by the end of 2007 that 5.1 million will have been sold. As many as 950,621 Ladose packets will be sold in Greek pharmacies this year. It is expected that by 2020 depression will be the second cause of illness and death worldwide after heart attack. About 350 million people suffer from depression in the world today and in Athens 6.5 percent of the population show symptoms of depressive disorders (about 200,000 people). «There are many reasons why cases of depression are on the rise,» explained Haralambos Touloumis, section head at the Athens Psychiatric Hospital. «People go to the doctor more readily nowadays and therefore depression is diagnosed more frequently than before. Doctors are also more wary and can detect cases. But the main reason is that people have higher expectations and therefore it is much easier to become disappointed. The reaction to this is often a depressive disorder.» According to Giorgos Alevizopoulos, Assistant professor in psychiatry at the Athens University Health Sciences Department, «we live in a very fast society, a competitive society which does not accept people who do things in a different way.» The solution is usually a pill. «Guidelines from large organizations such as the World Health Organization say that medicine should be prescribed for depression of medium gravity and above,» said Touloumis. The drugs seem to be effective in these cases of depression but there are also incidents of overuse as there is a lack of psychotherapeutic treatment, which requires time, money and effort. Our way of life causes anxiety and depression. Instead of changing our lifestyle we can take Prozac. (1) This article first appeared in Kathimerini’s weekly supplement K on November 11, 2007.